03 April, 2006

Live Freelance Or Die

I'm a freelancer. I make money by the hour when I do a job. Out of the fees I charge I am responsible for paying my own overhead--everything from quarterly taxes to the light bill. My dad worked the same way as an attorney.

My pet business peeve are the True Believers. Whether they truly believe in Jesus, Party Politics or the End Of The World As We Know It Due To Global Warming/Immigration or other issue, they always want you to work for free.

That makes me mad. I have quoted jobs for people who don't feel they can spare the money so they don't take me up on the work. That's cool. I'm fine with that. I'm even flattered that they thought to ask. But the True Believers all seem to think that the cause to which they are so devoted should inspire the same level of sacrificial devotion from all of their service providers.

I love Jesus, I really do. But I think Jesus gave me talents, the access to funds to start up my business, and a good bit of business acumen to keep things going. I don't think Jesus would be impressed with my stewardship if I did everything for everybody for nothing.

I have a really generous billing policy, including offering a 10% rebate to all 501-c-3 Corporations regardless of how I feel about their religious beliefs or politics. But don't try to play the "I'm a poor Christian" or "This is a grassroots campaign" card with me. I have bills to pay just like you do.

I have donated a lot of time to a lot of causes, and I'm happy to do it--if it's my idea. But if you are in a Sunday School class with my cousin and you heard that I was a Christian Graphic Designer and Copywriter, don't send me an email and ask me to do a 2-sided 4/colour brochure (12 hours of work plus printer-followup) for nothing.



At 1:55 PM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've touched on something that I feel strongly about as well. I'm a professional musician. My God given talents and business skills have enabled me to earn a living doing this for the last 15 years.
I used to be involved with the music program at a church in college. At first, I volunteered to play piano for an occasional offertory, then I was asked to play in the worship band, then I was asked to join the choir. Once I volunteered for one thing, I was asked to participate in a bunch of stuff. Instead of looking forward to going to church every Sunday, I began to dread the 8am-12 noon stretch, not to mention the rehearsals during the week. But I felt selfish if I thought about reducing my volunteer time.

Much later, after college and a move to another city, I began to realize the same things you talked about in your post. When the music director at our current church heard that I had a vocal degree and a strong music background, he asked me to be a part of the choir. As much as I wanted to sing again, I had heard from a friend in the choir how much time was required, and that it never stopped at just choir rehearsals. So I politely said no. A few weeks later, he asked again, and I said no then, too. Well, he must have talked to the choir about me, because suddenly everyone thought that I was "on the market" and I got a lot of requests from choir members (with some even using the old "why don't you want to use your talents for the Lord?" reaasoning. This made me a bit angry, and I always wanted to reply "Chrisian doctors and dentists aren't expected give free treatment to their church members, why are Chrisitans musicians held to a different standard?"

I'm all for Christians using their talents for God's glory, and think that, if anything, Christian professionals of ALL vocations should treat/teach/etc their brothers and sisters for free (or maybe reduced?) rates. I dunno. It gets confusing and murky. But what I don't like is the double standard that gets applied to those of us that have "talents" that the church as come to expect us to use for free.

So is this a love of mammon? I don't think so, but I do agree with Katherine when she says:

"I love Jesus, I really do. But I think Jesus gave me talents, the access to funds to start up my business, and a good bit of business acumen to keep things going. I don't think Jesus would be impressed with my stewardship if I did everything for everybody for nothing."

It's still a sensitive issue for me, but I said NO enough times at church that I no longer get asked (took about a year of politely declining). They finally got the message.

There may be some who feel differently about this. I'd like to pose a question and get an honest, thoughtful reply. If you feel that it's okay for the laypeople of the church to be expected to volunteer for choirs and such, why then is the music minister paid a salary? At our church, the minister's salary is $65,000+ housing and stipend- there are a total of about 70 people in all of the choirs. Yes, the music minister works on things other than choir, but I'd say that the choral programs represent about 50% of his time. I'm not knocking his paycheck, but simply wondering why it's okay to compensate him and yet still expect the people who actually sing to "sacrifice for the Lord".

Like I say, it's a sensitive topic for me, and not one that I've fully come to grips with.


At 3:42 PM, April 03, 2006, Blogger Patrick said...

Great post, and great response.

I think it boils down to the definition of the word volunteer. The definition that I like (though it has obtained new meaning to me over the last decade or so...) is to "perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will." This doesn't say anything about being compensated, but it does say everything about the individual's decision.

Your decision to volunteer is just that: yours. Depending on circumstances, there is an outside chance that you might have accepted that 4/4 brochure... if you thought it would look good in a developing portfolio... if you thought it would lead to other work... if you thought it would mend a broken fence... there are any number of reasons. And, depending on the circumstance, you might have been compensated for said project, maybe with a gift certificate or recognition... or not at all.

Ultimately though, all we have in the world is time, and how we choose to monetize that time impacts our choices in how we exchange that unceasing flow of minutes for pieces of green paper and/or things that bring us joy, satisfaction, love and purpose. Jason chose to budget his time in a way differently than the expectations of the culture surrounding him, and received/perceived push-back. Hopefully a simple, "I'm not able to commit to the time that is needed" would suffice. In our church, there are lots of over-qualified, excellent musicians that would be phenomenal additions to our choir that choose not to participate... some for family reasons, some for health reasons, and some because they simply choose not to.

As for vocational ministry, that's an age-old debate. In the particular case that he describes, it's probably partially market-driven. In other words, the "church market" will bear that salary for a trained, experienced volunteer-and-program-manager, but the market will not bear paid choir members. In some markets (certain Episcopal churches that I am aware of,) certain members of the choir are paid. In some markets (certain smaller churches and denominations like Quakers,) no one... not even the pastor gets paid.

Everyone involved will argue to the "rightness" of either end of the spectrum, but in the end, it is the determination of the individual as to whether or not he/she will volunteer to be a part of what is going on. Ultimately, it's a decision between you and God... and that isn't meant to say that singing in the choir is the right decision... it really is between you and God.

At 4:14 PM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, Patrick. I was hoping you'd chime in on this. You and I have very similar backgrounds and a history together and I've seen you put a lot more time into church activities in 20 years I've known you than I have. I certainly respect that and appreciate your thoughtful response.

I guess I should have been more clear about the music director's salary. I don't have any problem with the amount that he's getting- good for him. It's just the drastic difference in appreciation (as measured in monetary recompense) between the leader of the music ministry, and the ones who are co-leading worship with him. I'm encouraged that the Episcopal church recognizes the issue and is at least taking steps to address it.

I imagine that this will be an issue that I'll deal with for a long time. It's not something I'm comfortable deciding one way or another, and as such it sort of leaves me feeling in limbo. There are good arguments on both the Levitical priesthood side, and on the "market economics" side.

But now I'd better get back to mastering my Word cd's. :)


At 4:33 PM, April 03, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

I've been very lucky because the jobs that I have volunteered for (happily in each and every case), have all turned out to compensate me more than I expected, whether by cash, gift certificate or recognition.

I did some brochures for my church. I offered my services. The person who took me up on my offer was someone I had known for a long time. We both knew it would be for no pay.

That was cool.

What wasn't (and isn't cool) is when I get an email from someone I've never met who knows somebody else I've done work for and tries to play the "we're brothers in Christ" card to get me to do their project gratis. It's especially galling when it's not even for a Church-related reason. If you're starting your own business and you want a free logo or free letterhead, expect to pay for it. One person even intimated that I should not only do the designing for free, but I should also underwrite the costs of the business cards and letterhead from their printer as a "fellowship donation".

Jason & Patrick live in an even more grey area, because performance is so wildly compensated for some (Garth Brooks) and undercompensated for others (church choir members.)

That has to be galling.

At 4:44 PM, April 03, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't even get me started on non-profits wanting us to do their websites for free. All the graphic design, coding, and some of them even think hosting should be free. Un-BELIEVABLE.

And yes - I work for the church ... but not 24/7. And working at the church doesn't mean I should fix every church member's computer, website, email at their homes. And yet that is a common misconception evidently. A particular ministry near to us has a real problem understanding the concept of us saying "yes we will order your computers, servers, and network equipment. Yes we will do the original set up for your network. But you need to find someone else to be your network person. We don't have the time to do that." But several months later. Here we are. Instead of finding someone - and being willing to pay that someone - they keep calling us and we feel OBLIGATED to go and fix things because we know they don't have anyone else. At some point I suppose we will have to be the "bad guy" and tell them that they can either pay us - or deal with the problems themselves (which they can't). Why should I feel bad when they ARE USING ME? They know it. Not one token of appreciation has ever been given.


Argh. I'd choose dealing with commercial out-and-out businesses any day over TRUE BELIEVERS ;)

~ Lacy

At 11:35 AM, April 04, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'd choose dealing with commercial out-and-out businesses any day over TRUE BELIEVERS ;)"

Reminds me of a saying we had at Noah's back when I was a river guide:

Q: What's the difference between a canoe and a christian?

A: Canoe's tip.


At 3:18 PM, April 04, 2006, Blogger dolphin said...

I 100% agree on the "true believers" out there, and you can usually tell who they are because they generally tell you about their cause before they even get to the job they want done.

On the topic of church choir members though, I think there is a degree of difference between professional musicians and he average church choir member. Not that this pertains to the to commenter who posted initially about the church choir as he had a musical background and talent, but I think it's completely reasonable for a music minister with a degree (or other education/background) in music to get paid while a choir member who "just sings" (as in has no professional or academic experience) does not. A few years ago I (a non-christian btw) was paid to sing in the choir of a local church (a Baptist church at that!). There were four of us in the whole choir who were paid (SATB). Was it reasonable for the four of us to get paid while the rest of the choir didn't? I think so. The four of us had degrees in vocal music. We'd spent time and money developing our abilities and we were who the rest of the choir depended on to hear their part when needed.


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